THE TIME THAT WAS THEN by Harry Roskolenko


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A serious, thoughtful memoir of a Jewish childhood on the Lower East Side -- a subject so sandbagged by windy reminiscences that the real contours have, for many, been obscured. Roskolenko is a shrewd guide and memories both amusing and disturbing are leavened with sad attention to the ""founding"" generation who had immigrated at the turn of the century -- parents slowly drained of hope and promise, to whom America remained a strange land. Yet America had been the Goldene Medina, and ""Our folkways were based on daily verbal festivals."" Roskolenko reconstructs the political climate on a family level (""Socialism over a glass of tea""); the landmark Cloakmaker's Strike of 1910, one year before the Triangle fire; and the cafes with ""pale men, heavily mustached and bearded, their eyes shining, their talk ego-sodden."" He remembers the tired, patient workers in factories and his father in a ""bursting continuity of steam."" There are sections dealing with peddlers, the theatre, press, settlements, and an inevitable tribute to the purchase of a suit, the ""Yiddish drama done in mock tragedy."" Some celebrities are seen from afar: Emma Goldman ""bearing fire from Mount Emma Goldman"" and Abraham Cahan, editor of the Forward, ""totally Yiddish in his thoughts, values and expressions."" By the author of When I Was Last On Cherry Street (1965) -- a view from the bridge at two worlds, but neither, in a sense, was home.

Pub Date: Feb. 19th, 1970
Publisher: Dial